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By Pat Rizzuto
Dec. 18 — Legislation the Senate passed unanimously Dec. 17 that would overhaul the primary U.S. chemicals law would set consistent national standards for chemical regulations across the country, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said Dec. 18.
“When the EPA acts, that is the rulebook for the entire country, which is the only way an industry like this, which isn't just national, it's international, can remain an innovation leader,” Vitter said during a briefing the morning after the Senate voted unanimously by voice vote to pass the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S.697) . The Senate's bill was renumbered as H.R. 2576, so it could be sent back to the House for consideration, Senate staff told Bloomberg BNA.
The bill would balance the new authority it would give the Environmental Protection Agency with specific requirements so the regulated community and interested public can better understand the reasoning for the agency's decisions about chemicals, Vitter said.
“As we gave EPA more authority, we wanted to make sure it acted with that authority in a completely transparent way that is based on completely sound science. I think there are significant protections in the bill,” Vitter said.
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who originally opposed the bill, said he agreed to support it after language was added to provide the EPA more funding from industry fees; require industry compliance with regulations by set deadlines; require the EPA to act more quickly to address hazardous chemicals, such as asbestos, more quickly; and provide additional protection for populations vulnerable to chemicals.
“None of us standing up here believe it is perfect,” Markey said. “But it's this kind of bipartisan commitment, married with compromise, that yields important, long-lasting legislation.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) worked with Vitter for more than two years to secure passage of this legislation, which took minutes to approve on the by voice vote floor .
“After years of negotiations, collaboration and working with stakeholders across the country, we have made tremendous progress toward historic, bipartisan environmental reform,” Udall said.
In a floor speech later in the day, Udall highlighted key features of the bill and changes it would make to existing TSCA:
Udall discussed next steps to reconcile the Senate bill with House legislation that narrowly changed TSCA.
The House approved its TSCA Modernization Act (H.R. 2576) in June by a 398-1 vote (39 CRR 775, 6/29/15).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) lifted her objections to the TSCA-reform bill proceeding to the Senate floor even though neither chamber has reached any agreement regarding the specific approach they will use to address differences between the two bills, Udall said.
Staff from both chambers will work toward reconciling the bills during the holiday break, Udall said.
The next session of Congress begins on Jan. 5, 2016, for the House and on Jan. 11, 2016, for the Senate.
Vitter said all sides will be working to complete a final TSCA-reform bill in early 2016.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who shepherded the House bill through that chamber, told Bloomberg BNA the House is open to looking at provisions in the Senate bill that are absent from the House legislation, such as the Senate's change that would require the EPA assess the safety of new chemicals before they enter commerce.
“I'm not going to require or request my folks to burn the midnight oil all through the break, destroy their holidays, when we can come back and start the process in January. I think there will be a lot of time during the regular workday, regular hours when members can talk to senators, staff can talk to staff.
“The real question is, ‘do we go the formal route or are there discussions that can happen where it's not [formal],' ” Shimkus said.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) likes having formal conferences, Shimkus said, but added if the chambers used an informal process all stakeholders would be heard. “I'm very optimistic. Very exciting.”
Mark Duvall, an attorney with Beveridge & Diamond PC who consults with chemical companies and their trade associations, told Bloomberg BNA the House and Senate bills are notable.
Despite the chamber's general lack of bipartisanship, “both houses overwhelmingly approved legislation giving EPA significant new authority. Both sides should be congratulated on feat of magic,” Duvall said.
Boxer did not attend the briefing, but her office provided Bloomberg BNA a list of changes it said she negotiated with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) initially followed by Udall and Vitter.
The changes have been added since April when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill (39 CRR 514, 5/4/15).
The changes include:
Senate staff also provided a summary listing highlights of the bill in general and changes made since the EPW committee approved it. The summary says the bill would:
Many technical changes and small revisions to the bill have been made to tighten it up and ensure it would not, inadvertently, throw new obstacles in front of the EPA, Senate staff told Bloomberg BNA.
Agency and Senate staff conducted a line-by-line review of the bill, they said.
Scientists from the American Chemical Society provided guidance throughout the bill's development as well, Udall said.
A group of toxicologists convened by the Society of Toxicology consulted with Senate staff on issues such as chemical safety tests, William Farland, a member of that group and former senior EPA scientist, said during a recent Society for Risk Analysis meeting.
As the TSCA-reform bill was revised through negotiations, the language on its scientific requirements became more accurate and less prescriptive, Farland said.
The task force did not want the law to inadvertently freeze toxicity testing by requiring any specific technologies, he said.
With assistance from Anthony Adragna in Washington.
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